Central African Empire
Motto: "Unité, Dignité, Travail"
Anthem: "La Renaissance"
and largest city
|Religion||Roman Catholicism (official) |
Protestantism, Sunni Islam (minority)
|Government||Constitutional monarchy (de jure)|
Absolute monarchy under a one-party military dictatorship (de facto)
|4 December 1976|
|4 December 1977|
|21 September 1979|
|622,984 km2 (240,535 sq mi)|
|Currency||Central African CFA franc|
|Today part of||Central African Republic|
The Central African Empire (French: Empire centrafricain) was a short-lived and self-proclaimed 'Imperial' one-party state ruled by an absolute monarch that replaced the Central African Republic and was, in turn, replaced by the restoration of the Republic. The empire was formed by and under the command of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, military dictator and President of the Central African Republic, who declared himself Bokassa I, Emperor of Central Africa, on 4 December 1976.
Bokassa spent the equivalent of over US$20 million, a third of the country's government annual income, on his coronation ceremony. The monarchy was abolished (the most recent one ruled by an emperor) and the republic was restored on 21 September 1979, when Bokassa was ousted with French support. His palace was neglected.
In September 1976, Bokassa dissolved the government and replaced it with the Central African Revolutionary Council. On 4 December 1976, at the MESAN congress, Bokassa instituted a new constitution, converted back to Roman Catholicism—he had briefly become a Muslim earlier in the year—and declared the republic to be a monarchy: the "Central African Empire". He had himself crowned and styled himself "His Imperial Majesty" on 4 December 1977.
Bokassa's full title was "Emperor of Central Africa by the Will of the Central African People, United within the National Political Party, the MESAN". His regalia, lavish coronation ceremony, and régime were largely inspired by Napoléon I, who had converted the French First Republic, of which he was First Consul, into the First French Empire. The coronation ceremony was estimated to cost his country roughly US$20,000,000 – one-third of the country's budget and all of France's aid for that year.
Bokassa attempted to justify his actions by claiming that creating a monarchy would help Central Africa "stand out" from the rest of the continent, and earn the world's respect. Despite invitations, no foreign leaders attended the event. Many thought Bokassa was insane, and compared his egotistical extravagance with that of Africa's other well-known eccentric dictator – Field Marshal Idi Amin.
Although it was claimed that the new empire would be a constitutional monarchy, in practice the country remained a military dictatorship that acts like a absolute monarchy instead. Emperor Bokassa retained the dictatorial powers he had possessed as president, and MESAN remained the only legally permitted party. Suppression of dissenters remained widespread, and torture was said to be especially rampant. It was subsequently proven at trial that Bokassa himself occasionally participated in beatings.
By January 1979, French support for Bokassa had all but eroded after riots in Bangui led to a massacre of civilians. Between 17 and 19 April, a number of high school students were arrested after they had protested against wearing the expensive, government-required school uniforms; an estimated 100 were killed.
Bokassa allegedly participated in the massacre, beating some of the children to death with his cane. However, the initial reports received by Amnesty International indicated only that the school students suffocated or were beaten to death while being forced into a small cell following their arrest.
Bokassa's overthrow by the French government was called "France's last colonial expedition" by veteran French diplomat Jacques Foccart. Operation Barracuda began the night of 20 September and ended early the next morning. An undercover commando squad from the French intelligence agency SDECE, joined by the 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment led by Colonel Brancion-Rouge, landed by Transall C-160, and managed to secure Bangui M'Poko International Airport. Upon arrival of two more transport aircraft, a message was sent to Colonel Degenne to come in with eight Puma helicopters and Transall aircraft, which took off from N'Djaména military airport in neighbouring Chad.